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U.S. says it won't again use vaccinations as spying cover

| Tuesday, May 20, 2014, 7:24 p.m.

The White House and the CIA have pledged to never again use vaccinations as a fig leaf for spying, three years after the intelligence agency set up a bogus hepatitis campaign in Pakistan to locate Osama bin Laden.

Responding to a January 2013 letter from deans of 12 public health universities, President Obama's senior counterterrorism adviser, Lisa Monaco, said that the CIA had stopped the practice in August and that the agency “will not seek to obtain or exploit DNA or other genetic material acquired” through vaccination programs.

The policy change applies worldwide to “U.S. and non-U.S. persons alike,” she wrote in a letter.

A spokesman for CIA Director John Brennan said that “our objective is to dispel one canard that militant groups have used as justification for cowardly attacks against vaccination providers,” The New York Times reported.

In their letter, the deans noted that the Pakistani government had expelled the charity group Save the Children for its suspected involvement in the CIA ruse and that seven United Nations' workers vaccinating children against polio were gunned down because of the phony campaign. The educators voiced concern that the CIA subterfuge jeopardized the effort to eradicate polio worldwide.

“While political and security agendas may by necessity induce collateral damage, we as a society set boundaries on these damages, and we believe this sham vaccination campaign exceeded those damages,” their appeal said, noting the “unintended negative public health impacts we are witnessing in Pakistan.”

In the hunt for bin Laden, the CIA recruited a Pakistani doctor for an effort to collect DNA from family members in the al-Qaida leader's suspected compound in Abbottabad to confirm his presence. The bid failed, but Navy SEALs eventually killed bin Laden there in May 2011.

The doctor, Shakil Afridi, was arrested days later and convicted of treason. In March, his 33-year prison sentence was reduced to 23 years, pending a retrial.

While being interrogated, Afridi reportedly said a Save the Children worker introduced him to CIA agents in Pakistan. The agency and the charity denied the claim.

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